An Israeli University-Level Approach to Judezmo (Ladino), Traditional Language of the Sephardic Jews

An Israeli University-Level Approach to Judezmo (Ladino), Traditional Language of the Sephardic Jews

David Monson Bunis (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3379-6.ch012

Abstract

Judezmo, or Ladino or Judeo-Spanish, is the traditional language of the Sephardic or Iberian Jews who after 1492 resettled in the Ottoman Empire, many of them remaining in the region into the 21st century. Structurally, Modern Judezmo is composed mostly of elements of popular medieval Ibero-Romance, Ibero-Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, Turkish and Balkan languages, and Italian and French. Into the first half of the 20th century, the language was written primarily in the Hebrew alphabet; from the second half of the 19th century, Romanization was also used, leading to the unique Romanization which predominates today. The language was not taught formally in the speech community until the 19th century; instead language study focused on Hebrew. In the late 1970s, popular social pressure led the Israeli government to acknowledge the important role played by Judezmo in the Sephardic Diaspora by introducing Judezmo courses in Israeli universities. The chapter focuses on the challenges of teaching Judezmo at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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Introduction

Judezmo, also commonly known as Ladino and Judeo-Spanish, is the traditional language of the Sephardic Jews – the descendants of the Jews exiled from Iberia at the end of the 15th century – who resettled in the Ottoman Empire, many of them remaining in the region into the 20th century. A sister language, used by the descendants of the Jews from medieval Iberia who resettled in North Africa, is often known as Ḥaketía. Structurally, Judezmo is composed mostly of elements originating in popular medieval Ibero-Romance, Ibero-Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, Turkish and Balkan languages, and – especially from the late 18th century – Italian and French. From its earliest precursors in medieval Iberia and into the first half of the 20th century the language was written primarily in the Hebrew alphabet; from the second half of the 19th century, Latin and other non-Jewish alphabets were used as well, leading to the unique, essentially phonemic Romanization which predominates today. The history of the language may be subdivided into Early (or pre-Expulsion), Middle (c1493-1764) and Late periods (c1765-present), each period characterized by regional, social and stylistic variation. Many of the structural changes occurring over the course of the history of Judezmo were accepted in all of the language’s regional dialects; but Judezmo never achieved complete linguistic standardization.

In the late 1970s, especially in response to popular social pressure to acknowledge and publicize the richness and important social and cultural role played by the Jewish languages which arose over the centuries in the Jewish Diaspora, the Israeli government sponsored the introduction of Judezmo alongside Yiddish in Israeli universities. In 1996 this educational advance was strengthened through the establishment by the Israel Knesset of the Authority for Ladino and Its Culture headquartered in Jerusalem. The present chapter focuses on the challenges of introducing Judezmo instruction in one of Israel’s premier universities: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Rashi Letters: A rabbinic cursive typeface modelled after the cursive script used by the Jews of Iberia.

Ibero-Romance: Varieties of Romance used in the Iberian Peninsula such as Castilian, Catalan, Portuguese.

Ibero-Arabic: Varieties of Arabic primarily of North African origin used by the Arabs of medieval Iberia.

Square Hebrew Letters: Also known in Hebrew as meruba‘, these block-like letters are ordinarily for printing Hebrew and, in Judezmo, titles.

Sephardim: Jews whose ancestors lived in medieval Iberia and later migrated mostly to the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, where they developed the sisters languages known as Judezmo and ?aketía.

Vowel Points: Subscript signs used with Hebrew letters to denote vowels.

Judeo-Spanish: An attempt at a scientific name for the Judezmo language, often used by Hispanists and Romance philologists.

Ladino: One of the oldest names for the traditional language of the Sephardic Jews, its use is sometimes reserve for the artificial, archaizing language of Bible translations.

Judezmo: The traditional language of the Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire and its successor states (also called Ladino, Judeo-Spanish), often used today by Jewish language scholars.

Ashkenazim: Jews whose medieval ancestors lived in German-speaking lands and later migrated to Eastern Europe and developed the Jewish language called Yiddish.

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